As a kid, I read about a boy who sat at the back of the school bus to get a longer ride. Now, when I commute, I sit at the front of the train, to get there quicker.
We travelled when I was growing up. Surfing safaris. Then Dad discovered catamarans, and we did sailing safaris. We traversed southern Australia in search of waves and wind.
As a teenager, I discovered Melbourne, with more interesting record and sci-fi book stores than my hometown Adelaide. As Adelaide’s nearest neighbour, it was a mere 12 hours by train.
Consequently, slow travel has never bothered me.
When I was 20, I caught slow boats between Japan’s Honshu, Shikoku and Kyushu islands, and met interesting people. A comic punchline from my childhood springs to mind: “Getting there is half the fun”.
In my early twenties, I planned my second trip to Japan. I’d devoured the tales of many travellers and discovered Lonely Planets. I wanted to visit a good friend who lived in Hong Kong. I also desperately wanted to visit Okinawa.
The “Getting there and away” section of LP excited me the most. So many options. I decided to travel by boat from Hong Kong to Japan, via Taiwan and Okinawa.
I saw the student travel agency, because they’d know what to do. I booked a funky open-jaw ticket Cairns – Hong Kong / Sapporo – Cairns. I noticed the Hong Kong leg was via Singapore. What a waste not to visit, I thought, and added a four-day stop to check it out. Thereafter, for years I made it a rule never to pass through a country without visiting it.
The backpacker hostel in Singapore was the dodgiest in the LP. Such flophouses have now doubtlessly been expunged from Singers. Fortunately, I secured an upgrade–a bunk bed in a room. Most beds were actually in the corridors. My roommates offered me the choice of top bunk (= mosquito class) or bottom (= bedbug class). Being inexperienced with bedbugs, I chose mozzies. Later I saw the rooftop, where guests slept outdoors under a shonky rain shelter.
The guys in my dorm (all Japanese) had “done” Malaysia and Thailand. I may as well have met Marco Polo freshly back from Cathay. It sounded too exciting to miss. I changed the date of my Hong Kong flight, and planned my conquest of the Malay Peninsula.
Before leaving, I decide to visit Singapore’s tropical island paradise of Pulau Ubin. I packed my belongings and set out, but couldn’t find anywhere to stay. Neither did I find the sandy white beaches I expected. Back on the main island defeated, I was unwilling to return to the rat-house. I spotted a boat headed for Malaysia. The LP suggested boat as an interesting alternative, so I bought my ticket. The boat was low-key. I think it was an open boat, and as we hit open waters, I noticed how flimsy it was. As Malaysia approached, I thought I would plan my next move. I flicked to the Malaysia chapter in “Southeast Asia on a Shoestring”. And I searched in vain for information about the boat or the town we were heading for. Seems the different countries had different authors.
I realised I didn’t have Malaysian currency. I didn’t know where I was going. It wasn’t even on the map. I recalled a book a friend had once recommended, 地図のない旅 “Journey Without a Map”…
To be continued.